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SPECIES: Artemisia rigida


Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service,

McWilliams, Jack. 2003. Artemisia rigida. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].


Seraphidium rigidum (Nutt.) Weber [35]


scabland sagebrush
stiff sagebrush

The scientific name of scabland sagebrush is Artemisia rigida (Nutt.) Gray (Asteraceae)  [17,18,30,32,35].


No special status



SPECIES: Artemisia rigida
Scabland sagebrush occurs in Washington, northeastern Oregon [8,21,37,59], and west-central Idaho [21,37,56,59]. Reports of scabland sagebrush occurring in western Montana are apparently the results of misidentification [8,59].

FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)

5 Columbia Plateau
8 Northern Rocky Mountains

K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K050 Fescue-wheatgrass
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K055 Sagebrush steppe

210 Interior Douglas-fir
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
247 Jeffrey pine

104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
106 Bluegrass scabland
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
407 Scabland sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany

Bryce and Omernik [13] use scabland sagebrush and Sandberg bluegrass (Poa Secunda) as natural vegetation to define the Channeled Scablands [12] subregion of the Columbia Plateau in Oregon and Washington.

The most common associate of scabland sagebrush in Oregon is Sandberg bluegrass. Biscuitroots (Lomatium spp.) are also common. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and other annual grasses and forbs become major increasers on disturbed sites of scabland sagebrush [61]. Also in Oregon, in the Blue Mountains, Hall [29] describes the most common associates of scabland sagebrush in a western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis ssp. occidentalis)/scabland sagebrush/bluegrass (Poa spp.) plant community in good range condition as Sandberg bluegrass, onespike oatgrass (Danthonia unispicata), and often bighead clover (Trifolium macrocephalum). He states cheatgrass and western yarrow (Achillea millefolium) are absent from range sites in poor condition because of site limitations. Also in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, Hall [28] lists Sandberg bluegrass, wheatgrass (Triticeae), dwarf squirreltail (Elymus elymoides ssp. hordeoides), and bighead clover as vegetation dominants in scabland sagebrush stands.

In Idaho Hironaka and others [31] list a habitat type of scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass as occurring on shallow, basalt-derived soils. Other species associated with this habitat type include bottlebrush squirreltail (E. elymoides), crested wheatgrass (A. cristatum), tapertip onion (Allium acuminatum), bulbous woodland-star (Lithophragma glabrum), Bailey's buckwheat (Eriogonum baileyi), and low-growing biscuitroots. Cheatgrass and/or medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) occur sparsely in all stands, even when fully protected from all grazing.

Clary and others [16] describe a habitat type of scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in the Pole Creek drainage in Oregon that is restricted to rocky, basalt sites with shallow soil. Agee [1] describes a scabland plant series in the Columbia Basin of scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass.

A plant association of stiff sagebrush/bluegrass (Poa spp.) in eastern Washington and northern Idaho is described as an edaphic climax community along the brows of hills on thin, stony soils [46]. Similarly, Culver [19] describes an edaphic climax plant association of scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in Oregon. In Washington Daubenmire [21] delineates a scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass habitat type where the soil is always thin and stony with balsaltic bedrock immediately below.

Other classification systems describing plant communities in which scabland sagebrush is a dominant species are listed below:

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (Oregon) [33]
Meeks Table Research Natural Area (Washington) [53]
Canyon grasslands and associated shrublands of west-central Idaho and adjacent areas [55]


SPECIES: Artemisia rigida
The following description of scabland sagebrush provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g. [17,18,30,32]).

Scabland sagebrush is a native, deciduous shrub. It is low and spreading with a conspicuously woody base. The base is often heaved from the soil by frost action. The trunk is very irregular, spreading above the base in a dense cluster of short, rigid, and rather brittle branches up to 16 inches (40 cm) in length. Flowering stems elongate up to 1 foot (30 cm). Vegetative leaves are 0.4 to 1.6 inches (1-4 cm) long, with a narrow base and 3 conspicuous, narrowly linear lobes forming a trident. The fruit is a ribbed achene 1.5 mm long [8,38,59].

Most of the roots of scabland sagebrush are concentrated in rock fractures, and 80% of the roots of scabland sagebrush occur in the first 2 to 9 inches (5-23 cm) of soil [33].


Very little information about regeneration processes of scabland sagebrush is available in the literature. Where information about sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) in general is applicable, it is included.

Breeding system: Pendleton and others [44] describe sagebrush as monoecious.

Pollination: Scabland sagebrush is wind pollinated [37].

Seed production: All sagebrushes produce achenes "in profusion" [8]. No specific information about seed production of scabland sagebrush is available.

Seed dispersal: Sagebrush seed in general has very poor dispersal. It lacks appendages for airborne transport by wind or attachment to animals. Most seed falls beneath the plant and the plant community moves 3 feet (0.9 m) or less per generation [50]. There are no specific references to dispersal of scabland sagebrush seeds in the literature.

Seed banking: No information on seed banking of scabland sagebrush is available. Mueggler [42] found that after fire, big sagebrush (A. tridentata) seedlings arose from seed stored in the soil. Beetle [8] states seed of mountain silver sagebrush (A. cana ssp. viscidula) stored for 4 years under ordinary room temperatures was still viable.

Germination: In a discussion of sagebrush seed in general, Beetle [8] states sagebrush seed can germinate in 48 hours. Seed exposed to light resulted in germination percentages 3 times higher than sagebrush seed germinated in the dark. There is no evidence that sagebrush seed that survives the summer germinates in the fall under field conditions. Under field conditions, fluctuating extremes of temperatures (which are the rule in early spring) may be of less importance than the duration of a high noon temperature.

Seedling establishment/growth: Germinated sagebrush seeds can have fully exposed cotyledons within 4 days [8]. Shade from the canopy of mature sagebrush plants is a strong factor in seedling survival. Seedlings in direct sun have higher mortality.

Survival of sagebrush seedlings is directly related to the litter layer. With less litter there is a better likelihood of sagebrush seedlings establishing.

Asexual regeneration: Scabland sagebrush is not known to rootsprout or to layer [11,38,59].

Scabland sagebrush occurs on harsh, unproductive sites [34]. It is restricted to shallow, stony sites over basaltic bedrock [21,22] with severe moisture saturation during winter and severe frost heaving [28,31]. Where subsoils exist they are strongly developed of clay and permeability is extremely low [31]. In a scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass habitat type in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Washington and Idaho, average depth of the soil to bedrock is 4 to 9 inches (10-23 cm) [33].

Miller and Eddleman [40] describe annual precipitation at scabland sagebrush sites as 7.9 to 15.7 inches (200-400 mm). Precipitation on a habitat type of scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in southern Idaho ranges from 12 to 20 inches (305-508 mm) [31].

Several elevational ranges for scabland sagebrush have been delineated:

Miller and Eddleman [40] describe the elevational range of scabland sagebrush, in general, as 755 to 4,265 feet (230-1,300 m).
Beetle [8] gives the elevational range of scabland sagebrush on rocky scablands as between 3,000 to 5,000 feet (914-1,424 m).
Hall [27] describes the elevational range of scabland sagebrush in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington as 4,000 to 5,600 feet (1,219-1,707 m).
In the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, scabland sagebrush sites occur from 3,300 to 5,500 feet (1,006-1,676 m) with a mean altitude of 4,600 feet (1,400 m) [33].
In Oregon, Winward [61] describes the elevational range of stiff sagebrush as 3,000 to 7,000 feet (914-2,134 m).

Scabland sagebrush is part of the climax vegetation on sites where it occurs. Johnson [34] describes scabland sagebrush as "clearly" the climax vegetation of very harsh, unproductive range sites.

On scabland sites on the Bridge Creek Wildlife Management Area in northeastern Oregon, scabland sagebrush is part of a climax plant community [2]. In eastern Washington and northern Idaho scabland sagebrush is described as part of an edaphic climax community along the brows of hills on thin, stony soils [46]. Culver [19] also describes an edaphic climax vegetation association in Oregon where scabland sagebrush is the only shrub present.

Beetle [8] describes the phenology of scabland sagebrush as new growth beginning in June, young seedheads developing late July to August, flowering  in October, and seed ripening in October. Blaisdell and others [11] and McArthur and others [38] state seed ripens in scabland sagebrush in November.


SPECIES: Artemisia rigida
Fire adaptations: Scabland sagebrush is killed by fire [23].

Fire regimes: There is no specific information in the literature concerning fire regimes for scabland sagebrush. Researchers agree the vegetation on scabland sagebrush sites is so depauperate, it won't support fire. Agee [1] describes a scabland sagebrush/Sandberg's bluegrass plant series in the Columbia River Basin and concludes it has such low biomass productivity (125-335 kg/ha [33]) that it would not carry fire and probably "rarely" burned. Bunting and others [14] classify stiff sagebrush as a "dwarf" sagebrush and state there is seldom sufficient fuel to carry a fire. Tisdale and Hironaka [56] report the sparse herbaceous understory of scabland sagebrush stands make them virtually immune to fire. Humphrey [47] states stiff sagebrush is small in stature and typically occurs on poorly drained sites with few grasses or other potentially flammable growth. These stands are often restricted in area and do not provide an opportunity for extensive burns.

Fire regimes for plant communities and ecosystems in which scabland sagebrush occurs are summarized below. Find further fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".
Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [43]
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [48]
mountain big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [5,15,41]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [58,62]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1,000 [7,49]
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum < 35
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [43]
Jeffrey pine Pinus jeffreyi 5-30
Pacific ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa 1-47 [4]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [3,4]
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 25-100 [4,5,6]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species summary

Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Artemisia rigida
Fire rarely carries through scabland sagebrush stands, but when it does, stiff sagebrush is "killed outright" [23].

Scabland sagebrush is susceptible to fire during mid-summer to late fall and can be controlled by prescribed fire [33]. No information on susceptibility of stiff sagebrush in other seasons is available.

Scabland sagebrush is a nonsprouter that recolonizes burned areas slowly [1].

Scabland sagebrush increases with protection from fire, but becomes decadent over time [1]. Unpublished data (Tisdale 1980), discussed in Tisdale and Hironaka [56], indicate stiff sagebrush does not sprout after clipping to a height of 0.8 to 1.2 inches (2-3 cm).

Because fuel is rarely sufficient to carry a fire, scabland sagebrush stands can frequently be used as natural fire breaks. Care must be taken in above average production years because scabland sagebrush stands may be able to carry a fire at that time [14].

Since scabland sagebrush is a preferred browse plant for livestock and wildlife, prescribed burning in scabland sagebrush communities cannot be widely recommended [14]. Johnson and Simon [33] state scabland sagebrush has a high value to wildlife and should not be eradicated.

Johnson and Simon [33] conclude the intershrub distances in scabland sagebrush stands coupled with discontinuous grass cover make fire a difficult tool to use.


SPECIES: Artemisia rigida
Scabland sagebrush sites have low above ground annual plant production, 123 to 246 kg/ha [40]. However, because scabland sagebrush sites are commonly along exposed ridge sites where snowmelt occurs rapidly, these communities may supply the only available forage to big game animals in early spring months; consequently scabland sagebrush has a high value to wildlife [33]. Bunting and others [14] state scabland sagebrush is a preferred browse plant for both livestock and wildlife.

Daubenmire [21] states scabland sagebrush is preferred browse for elk and that domestic livestock also consume scabland sagebrush readily when grass forage is not plentiful. Daubenmire [23] notes the angularity of the basaltic blocks which comprise so much of the surface in scabland sagebrush stands makes footing uncomfortable for livestock during the rainy grazing season in Washington. Consequently, grass-dominated communities in the vegetation mosaic are utilized "rather completely" before scabland sagebrush bushes are browsed to "compact mats."

Western sage-grouse in Washington use stiff sage-brush as food [54]. Willis and others [60] state western sage-grouse in Oregon use stiff sagebrush; the authors don't delineate whether it is used for food, cover, or both.

Palatability/nutritional value: Both livestock and wildlife find scabland sagebrush palatable. Daubenmire [23] describes scabland sagebrush as "rather palatable" to livestock and Hall [28] states scabland sagebrush is highly palatable to big game and livestock. Seedheads of scabland sagebrush in August and September seem to be a prized forage. Hironaka and others [31] describe scabland sagebrush sites as heavily grazed, even in winter, when protein content of scabland sagebrush is "relatively low."

Cover value: Bare ground and rock usually account for greater than 60% of the ground cover in scabland sagebrush stands, so hiding cover is typically sparse [40]. Dealy and others [24] state the low stature and wide dispersion of scabland sagebrush stands in southeastern Oregon do not provide cover of any consequence for animals larger than horned larks or ground squirrels. Lack of leaves in winter severely reduces the little cover scabland sagebrush offers. However, Tirhi [54] states western sage-grouse in Washington use scabland sagebrush for cover.

Scabland sagebrush appears to have a wider potential distribution than is indicated by its present natural range of occurrence, giving it potential use in reclamation of some harsh disturbed sites [39]. Seeds of scabland sagebrush number 550,000 per pound (1,210/g) [38].

Scabland sagebrush is an excellent indicator of scabland [28].

Johnson [34] states establishment of introduced species in scabland sagebrush stands is very difficult. Because existing flora is generally superior to any introduced species, the best management strategy is to leave the native shrubs in place and to control present uses to maintain or improve the site's ecological condition. Hall [28] feels seeding of grasses is not possible in stiff sagebrush stands because shallow soils and waterlogging during winter are "inimical" to domestic grasses. He also states scabland sagebrush should not be sprayed because it is palatable to livestock and game animals and because it reduces wind speed over the soil surface.

Hironaka and others [31] discuss a habitat type of scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in southern Idaho and conclude since this habitat type grows on extremely shallow, rocky soils, a scabland sagebrush control program would probably not be beneficial. Sandberg bluegrass is not able to take advantage of additional soil moisture that may result from removal of scabland sagebrush. Reseeding with introduced species of wheatgrass would not be economical because of the site's soils. Increase in forage yields by restoration practices may not justify treatment costs. Programs designed to manage scabland sagebrush sites should be designed to maintain an open stand of sagebrush with a scattered understory of native herbaceous species.

Range condition of scabland sagebrush sites in the Blue Mountains can be determined using a 9.6 ft2 (0.9 m2) plot to measure crown cover. Plants counted to determine range condition include scabland sagebrush, Sandberg bluegrass, wheatgrass, and bighead clover as counted plants is [28]:

Range condition Percent crown cover Number of plants
Good 40 12 or more
Fair 20 to 39 6 to 11
Poor 2 to 19 1 to 5
Very poor none of plants listed

A study by Dahl and Tisdale [20] concludes communities of scabland sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass are susceptible to invasion by medusahead.

Belknap and others [9] state stiff sagebrush stands have a "high" relative biological crust cover.

Artemisia rigida: References

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2. Anderson, E. William; Scherzinger, Richard J. 1975. Improving quality of winter forage for elk by cattle grazing. Journal of Range Management. 28(2): 120-125. [316]

3. Arno, Stephen F. 1980. Forest fire history in the Northern Rockies. Journal of Forestry. 78(8): 460-465. [11990]

4. Arno, Stephen F. 2000. Fire in western forest ecosystems. In: Brown, James K.; Smith, Jane Kapler, eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 2. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 97-120. [36984]

5. Arno, Stephen F.; Gruell, George E. 1983. Fire history at the forest-grassland ecotone in southwestern Montana. Journal of Range Management. 36(3): 332-336. [342]

6. Arno, Stephen F.; Scott, Joe H.; Hartwell, Michael G. 1995. Age-class structure of old growth ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir stands and its relationship to fire history. Res. Pap. INT-RP-481. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 25 p. [25928]

7. Arno, Stephen F.; Wilson, Andrew E. 1986. Dating past fires in curlleaf mountain-mahogany communities. Journal of Range Management. 39(3): 241-243. [350]

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9. Belnap, Jayne; Kaltenecker, Julie Hilty; Rosentreter, Roger; [and others]. 2001. Biological soil crusts: ecology and management. Technical Reference 1730-2. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, National Science and Technology Center, Information and Communications Group. 110 p. [40277]

10. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434]

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